Kate Davis: Stonewall Riot Girl

With husband and filmmaking partner David Heilbroner, celebrated documentarian Kate Davis tackles the ugly truth about the Stonewall riots in Stonewall Uprising. Why? Ask her ex-girlfriend.



On June 28, 1969, an outraged gay mob resisted a police raid of the Stonewall Inn and ignited the modern gay rights movement. Directed by Kate Davis and husband David Heilbroner, Stonewall Uprising is the first documentary that tells the story through interviews with actual riot participants and regular patrons of the Greenwich Village gay bar. Based on David Carter’s book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution and produced for the PBS American Experience series, Stonewall Uprising also marks the sixth collaboration of the Emmy-winning filmmakers, whose credits include Southern Comfort, which documented the final year of a female-to-male transsexual and earned the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. From a Stonewall Inn barstool in June 2010, Davis speaks to us about her long kinship with the LGBT community.

Advocate.com: I must admit that I didn’t expect a husband-and-wife filmmaking team to be behind a documentary on the Stonewall riots. What about the subject appealed to you?
Kate Davis: Well, David and I have both been making films on LGBT subjects, civil rights, and equality issues in general for about 15 years, like Anti-Gay Hate Crimes and Transgender Revolution for A&E. But I’ve been fighting the fight since I was in high school in the late ’70s. I’ve never identified as straight, nor am I gay; I’m just attracted to who I’m attracted to. Why did I care enough about the subject to actually politicize these feelings? I guess I felt repressed myself — that sense from a young age that a girl’s supposed to act a certain way and a boy’s supposed to act a certain way. I actually took my girlfriend to the senior prom, and I wore a full tux.

How did that go over?
Now it’s a regular scandal, but back then there was just a dumbfounded reaction. The administration didn’t even know how to shut down the prom because they were so shocked. They’d never seen such a thing. Although the Stonewall riots had happened in ’69, I wasn’t really aware of it at 16, 17, and gay issues just weren’t talked about at my high school, even in the late ’70s.

Was your sexuality a struggle?
Yes, because I liked girls as well as boys, and there wasn’t a place for that. I did form a gay rights committee in the yearbook, which was then banned by the administration, but it was a fake group anyway because nobody was out. Frankly, I chose the smartest, shiniest stars of my class, who all presented as straight, and they were all willing on principle to be a part of this gay rights committee that was phantom, just to make the point that we could have and should have really existed.

Tags: film